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Pamela Smith, who learned Mandarin during her studies in Beijing, representing The Bahamas during a trip to the Great Wall of China.

Studies in China Open a World of Culture for Abaco Student

Pamela Smith is a self-confident young lady who loves to travel and her recent experiences in China have whetted her appetite to now travel the world.

Having grown up on Abaco and attended the St. Francis de Sales Primary School and Forest Heights Academy from which she graduated in 2011, her goal, like many young people, was then to attend college.  Her first choice was to attend a college close to home but when she discovered the high cost of colleges in the United States she realized that it might not be possible for this to become a reality. A friend told her that he was planning to go and study in Beijing, China because the fees are so much more affordable, so why didn’t she consider it.

Pamela immediately went online to learn about the university he mentioned, immediately decided to apply and was accepted. She began studies there in March 2012 and graduated with and Economics Degree in July 2016.

This was a very big step for a teenager who had grown up on the laid back island of Abaco with its sparse population to travel to the world’s third largest city with an estimated population of over 21 million.

The Beijing Union University at which Pamela studied has a student enrollment of 30,000 which is much larger than the population of Abaco. She admitted that at first she was very nervous about going because she knew that the culture would be so very different but in fact she found that the culture shock was not as great as she had imagined it would be.

The number of McDonalds, KFC, Dunkin Donuts and various other American franchises helped her to feel more at home. She did not, however, confine herself to foods that she was familiar with for she soon developed a love of Chinese food which, she said, is very different from any Chinese food served in The Bahamas.

She enjoyed visiting the many Chinese restaurants and also the many other options available in food such as Thai, Japanese and Malaysian.

“I could eat at a different restaurant every night. There were so many,” she said.

The weather was something else Pamela had to get used to. When she arrived in March it was cold but there was no snow. However, in her second year she saw snow for the first time. She says that she found it to be very pretty to look at covering the ground but she did not like the sound of it crunching under her feet.

When Pamela went to Beijing, like most of the other international students, she spoke no Mandarin. Knowing that this would be a problem for students in their efforts to fit into the Chinese community the University mandated that the first year would be spent entirely learning the Mandarin language.

“Chinese was absolutely essential for getting around anywhere outside of the classroom,” stated Pamela. Mandarin Classes were given in speaking, writing and grammar. At the end of the set first semester students had to sit an exam in which they had to write an essay in Mandarin of 150 characters. Fortunately, Pamela found this not as difficult as she had thought she would. During the remaining three years the classes for her economics degree were taught by English-speaking Chinese teachers. One course she did find a little difficult was the calculus course since the Chinese teacher spoke rather poor English and calculus is a difficult subject anyway.

During the first 3 1/2 years Pamela lived in a dorm, then she moved into an apartment with three Bahamian girls and finally at the end into her own apartment. Although there were no other students there from Abaco, Pamela met lots of Bahamians since there were about 50 or 60 students there from Nassau and Freeport. She met up with many of the students beforehand so that she had a group to travel with.

Pamela really enjoyed meeting people from other countries and said that she met some amazing people from the UK, Morocco, Kenya, Ethiopia, Botswana, China and Thailand. In fact her favorite thing about studying in China was the great friendships and bonds that she made.

She loved traveling and during her four years in Beijing she enjoyed traveling to the Great Wall many times and China’s Forbidden City and also ventured further to Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, Tokyo, the Philippines, Hawaii and even made a stop in the airport in Russia which she found to be very different.

Pamela admits that now she is back on Abaco she misses the bustle of China. “It was extremely busy and in the mornings the subways were absolutely packed.”

“It was a wonderful experience for me and I have great memories and many friendships that I have made. It was harder for me to come back home as I found the culture shock much greater coming home than it was to going to China. Abaco is such a big contrast.”

Pamela graduated with a degree in economics in July 2016 and her grandfather, Curtis Sands, travelled to Beijing for the graduation along with his niece.

Pamela is currently working at Abaco Groceries in the office doing purchasing from Nassau but she holds in her heart a great desire to travel to many different countries of the world to visit the friends she made in China.

“It was a great experience to broaden one’s horizons and I encourage anyone to venture out for this experience,” she stated.

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